Cystitis is special in cats because, unlike people and dogs, it is very often triggered by stress and not by infection.
While cystitis in female cats can be upsetting and painful, it’s worse for tom cats where it can become a life-threatening condition if their urethra (the exit from the bladder) becomes blocked by blood clots, crystals or swelling.
In this circumstance cats are completely unable to pass urine. This leads to their bladder becoming full to overflowing, which in turn can spark back-pressure and lead to kidney collapse and failure.
Any male cat that appears to be incapable of passing urine, needs to be seen by a vet immediately.
How and why do cats succumb to cystitis?
Cystitis has many and varied causes in cats, but most young cats that develop the problem are suffering some kind of stress.
Sometimes the reason is obvious – another pet in the household has died; one of the owners is away for a long period of time; the house is being decorated – but it can be difficult to pinpoint the trigger.
Once a cat develops this stress-related type of cystitis, he or she is prone to suffering further bouts. In some cases some sort of management may be needed to prevent future episodes.
It is only a small number of cats, especially the elderly or those with chronic problems like kidney disease, who develop cystitis because of infection.
Even more uncommon are those cats that develop cystitis due to bladder stones, or tumours.
Can I spot any signs of cystitis?
The clinical signs are all similar but not necessarily observed in every case. They include:
• Frequent usage of litter tray
• Passing tiny drops of urine if any at all
• Accidents or inappropriate urination
• Blood in the urine
• Pain during urination, that can cause some cats to cry when toileting
Diagnosing cystitis in cats
As well as the clinical signs mentioned above, a general physical examination and possibly other tests, like urine analysis, can be necessary to determine the type and severity of the cystitis. In some cases blood tests, radiographs and ultrasound examination or other tests may also be required.
A male cat unable to urinate due to complete blockage of the bladder needs to be treated as an emergency.
Treating cat cystitis
In cases of stress-related cystitis the treatment tends to consist of pain relief, relaxation of the bladder’s cramped muscle, and glucosamines that seem to soothe soreness inside the bladder.
It is also strongly advised that cats prone to cystitis are fed just a diet of wet food.
This is an exception to the general rule, as it is usually recommended that cats and dogs are fed on dry food.
However, the overall water intake for the patient is improved when wet food is served. Urine that is slightly more diluted can help prevent later episodes.
If possible, small amounts of water can be added to the wet food or the cat may be encouraged to drink by flavouring the drinking water with small amounts of something tasty e.g. salt-free chicken broth or tuna.
Male cats unable to pass urine tend to require more intensive treatment, including emergency sedation or general anaesthetic to allow the bladder to be unblocked and for urine flow to increase.
What is the prognosis?
Some cats only have cystitis on one occasion in their entire life, but once a cat develops stress-related cystitis he or she is prone to develop further episodes when stressed again.